The Seattle PI reports that fast food chain McDonald’s announced today that in mid-January it will begin offering free Wi-Fi to customers — something Starbucks will do only for latte lovers with Starbucks cards, and only for two hours a day.

Why free it up? Because McDonald’s wants to become a hangout, just like its rival.

The Wall Street Journal — long a close follower of the coffee wars between Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s and our hometown coffee giant — broke the story earlier today.

McDonald’s currently charges $2.95 for two hours of Wi-Fi service at 11,000 of the 14,000 domestic locations where it’s available.

Non-card-holding Starbucks customers pay $3.99 for the same service. Starbucks calls that a “competitive” price. But if you ask most Seattle coffee shop dwellers, the only competitive price for “hangout” Wi-Fi is free.

And yet, considering everything McDonald’s has aimed to be these last 50 years, tech blog Mashable asked a good question:

Doesn’t the concept of people lingering at McDonald’s to troll Facebook negate the very concept of a “fast food” restaurant, a concept that aims to get as many people fed and out the door as possible?

And isn’t this vision of McDonald’s as a hangout as popular as Starbucks a little … frothy?

Starbucks better hope so.